Thursday, February 9, 2012

Number Fifty-Nine

Eine durch Schritte nicht tief ausgehöhlte Treppenstufe ist, von sich selber aus gesehen, nur etwas öde zusammengefügtes Hölzernes.

A stair not worn hollow by footsteps is, regarded from its own point of view, only a boring something made of wood. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

To its own way of seeing, a wooden stair moderately hollowed out by people's footfalls is just some knocked-together article of wood. [Hofmann]


This aphorism is marked cancelled in both translations. Does this mean that only the used stair knows it's a stair? Or that the unused stair despises itself for being useless? Kafka's fiction is full of inanimate things that seem to be parts of other things, or parts of a system, about which it has only secondhand or otherwise sketchy information. It is an example of a thing that is stripped down apparently to nothing but function, which is then also stripped of function. Odradek, the odd wooden thing, might be one of those nameless, ad hoc machine parts you sometimes come across in the entrails of a car or a clock; it isn't an artifact with a real name, like a cog or a gear, it may not be an artifact.

This aphorism is cancelled, and I think I see why. There's some activity in it, but not enough.

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